Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day... A Mixed Bag

For me, Mother’s Day is full of mixed emotions.  Having spent 5 years desperately wishing to be a mother and enduring horribly painful and sometimes humiliating Mother’s Days before I was finally blessed to be a mother helped me become aware of how hard this day is for so many.  Of course now I have 3 children I adore and I get all the fun of being a mother on Mother’s Day.  But I can’t help but think of all the people suffering today.

A Day Of Suffering For Many
And the suffering is not limited to women who want to be mothers and aren’t.  There are people whose mothers have passed.  There are mothers who have children that have passed.  There are husbands whose wives have passed.  There are people whose family relationships are horrible.  There are families that have fallen or are in the process of falling apart.  There are people who never really had a relationship with anyone they would call a mother.  There are mothers who worry they are failing at motherhood.  There are mothers whose grown children are leading tragic or unfulfilled lives.  The list could go on.  Everyone knows someone who has having a really tough day today. 

I love the idea inherent in the holiday of Mother’s Day of celebrating Motherhood.  I can’t think of too many things more worthy of a celebration.  But I think we often come at it from the wrong angle. 

The Martyr Mother
Too often Mother’s Day is focused on recognizing and paying homage to the “Martyr Mother.” The “Martyr Mother” has a thankless job and deserves to be queen for a day.  The “Martyr Mother” is slowly killing herself every day making sacrifices for her children.  The “Martyr Mother” always puts her children first and suffers in the process.  The “Martyr Mother” is lauded as a noble creature but really she is kind of sad and pathetic.  It is all too easy for any mother to slip into this mindset on occasion.  What mother hasn’t said something like, “I spend all day (fill in the blank) for you and this is the thanks I get?  (In reference to some kind of terrible behavior their child(ren) are engaged in).  The “Martyr Mother” gets one day a year to be rewarded for her selfless efforts, Mother’s Day.

Another Way Of Seeing Things
I was not raised by a “Martyr Mother.”  I’m not going to try and argue that my mother was perfect.  I remember her losing her temper, more than once.  I remember her being overwhelmed a lot and not knowing how to handle a lot of situations.  I remember her being very normal and human.  I also remember how she felt about motherhood.  She always believed it was the greatest privilege of her life to be a mother.  She commented on the daily rewards of motherhood, daily.  She taught me, by example, how full and happy the life of a mother could be.  She spoke often and specifically of how blessed she was to be a mother.  My siblings and I always knew there was nothing she wanted to do more than be our mother.  She was so inspiring that me and my 3 sisters grew up believing nothing would bring us more joy than becoming mothers.  It was our greatest aspiration.  Lest you think we weren’t aiming high, our lists included things like, become the Queen of Ireland, ride an elephant, become a famous author, become a famous singer, become a famous dancer, get a PHD in physics, and become a millionaire, but motherhood was always more exciting to us than all of that.   

The Joyful Mother
Today all four of us are what I will call  “Joyful Mothers”.  And our brother married a woman who feels like we do about motherhood. Despite heaps of normal problems and challenges, we are all blissfully happy and we love being mothers.

Our mother showed us that as a mother sacrifices and serves her children, she is rewarded grandly.  Not once a year with chocolates, jewelry and dinner but every day, several times a day with hugs, kisses, sincere expressions of love, shared confidences, trust, friendship, admiration and wholehearted devotion.  These are what I call the rewards of Motherhood.

Along with pleasant tasks, Motherhood is full of mundane, repetitive, dirty, gross, and Sisyphean tasks.  I’m not going to try and argue that changing a diaper is a pleasant experience.  But, since I’ve been the one to change it more often than not, my children trust me.  They feel safe with me.  I recently heard another mother I respect talk about how intimate it is to diaper, bathe, and feed someone.  Being the one to do all of that, most of the time, creates deep bonds between mother and child.  Those bonds yield the daily rewards of motherhood.  It’s not a proportionate, immediate, directly correlated or predictable system of investment and reward. 

I think it is also important I acknowledge just how overwhelming and difficult motherhood can be.  Nothing I’ve ever done has brought me to my knees so much.  Nothing has been as rewarding either.

Attitude Is Everything. 
A “Joyful Mother” sees all her efforts to take care of her children and endure the really tough phases as investments in her relationships with her children.  She cooks, cleans house, does laundry, nurtures, feeds, bathes, diapers, plays with, teaches, helps with homework, reads to, watches soccer matches, sings to and more for her children.  She is rewarded regularly with hugs, kisses, sincere expressions of love, shared confidences, trust, friendship, admiration and wholehearted devotion.

A “Martyr Mother” does all the same things but rather than making an investment, she is fulfilling a duty.  Her perspective limits and even prevents her from recognizing and cashing in on the rewards of Motherhood. Her reward is the glory of martyrdom. 

Neither mother is perfect.  Both make plenty of mistakes.  It’s their motivation and the subsequent rewards that differ.

I prefer the rewards of Joyful Motherhood.   

Unlimited Potential
Today we all know that women can do anything.  In the career world, the glass ceiling continues to crumble.  In the political realm, Women hold many of the most powerful roles of leadership in the world – I don’t think it will be very long before a woman is elected as the President of the United States.  It used to be that women were artificially limited in what they could do with their lives.  That is not the case anymore.  I’m not denying sexism still exists or that there aren’t plenty of challenges for women today.  I’m saying we haven’t found a limit to what women are capable of and the barriers and artificial limits are much less formidable.    I submit that “Joyful Motherhood” is right up there in terms of nobility, contribution, and rewards with being a CEO, Head of State, or any other noble pursuit.  It is also a privilege.

Motherhood:  A Privilege
I would like to see Mother’s Day celebrations focused on what a noble privilege and blessing motherhood is.   I sincerely appreciate the gifts, treats, and kind words I’ve received today but the real gift is that I get to be a mother.  I remember how painful Mother’s Day was when I wished I was a mother.  In the church I attend, on Mother’s Day, mother’s are usually given a small gift of flowers, chocolate, a plant or some other token of appreciation.  It is a lovely gesture.  Frequently on Mother’s Day, well meaning people try to include all women when the gifts are passed out.  They want to recognize all women, not just the mothers.  It is a very kind thought.  But for me, it was just salt in the wound.  The gift was a poor substitute for the real rewards of motherhood that I craved desperately.  

Mourn With Those That Mourn
If you know someone who is suffering today, rather than trying to make them feel better, try acknowledging their pain and expressing your love and concern for them.  That was always very comforting to me on my sad Mother’s Days.

Motherhood: A Reward In Itself
I am now able to enjoy the yearly gift at church for mothers but I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken without it.   The rewards of “Joyful Motherhood” are infinitely more wonderful.  Those of us blessed with the privilege of being mothers should be celebrating our good fortune.   And certainly we should recognize our mothers and thank them for their love and sacrifices.  But lets not forget that motherhood is it’s own reward. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

1 comment:

Paige said...

Great Post. Motherhood really is a blessing. A couple of weeks ago I'd had a TOUGH day and by early evening I'd had enough and took the babies out for a "breather" trip to the grocery store (I know, some breather, right?!). Anyhow, a fellow shopper admired the babies and then said, "but where is Daddy? Why do you have both of the babies by yourself?" I explained that there were three other children at home with Daddy. "5 children! You are so blessed!" She actually got a bit misty as she was saying it, and that helped me to really stop and feel the weight of her comment. I smiled and agreed, and my day became much less burdensome. It took a random stranger in the grocery store to remind me of the perspective that this is exactly what I want, and that even the frustrations of that hard day were blessings because they were part of the package of caring for my children who I love so dearly.